Breaking: White House Says 'Era of Blank Check' Is Over for Afghan President Karzai

President will give a speech to the nation Tuesday announcing additional troops.

November 30, 2009, 11:45 AM

Nov. 30, 2009— -- While tomorrow night's speech will have many audiences -- the American people, international allies, the Afghan government, a senior administration official tells ABC News one key message will resonate with all of them: "The era of the blank check for President Karzai is over."

Senior administration officials tell ABC News that as part of President Obama's speech and his new policy will come some news that Afghanistan's president will not welcome: Instead of U.S. resources going to Karzai's national government, much of it will be targeted at local governments at the province and district level, and at specific ministries, such as those devoted to Afghan security.

"Investments will be based on performance," a senior administration official told ABC News.

If Karzai continues to run a government that is full of corruption and fails to provide basic services, he may find himself out of the loop entirely.

"It's time for a new chapter in our relationship as it relates to corruption and improved governance," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said today.

After the fraud-riddled election in October, President Obama took a stern tone with Karzai both privately and publicly, arguing that the investment the American people have made in his country -- both in terms of billions spent and thousands of troops killed and wounded -- was not open-ended.

The president was described as heartened to hear that Karzai spent much of his inaugural address discussing corruption.

In his inaugural address, Karzai said his government "is committed to end the culture of impunity and violation of law and bring to justice those involved in spreading corruption and abuse of public property. To do this, will require effective and strong measures. Therefore, alongside an intensified judicial reform, all government anti-corruption efforts and agencies have to be strengthened and supported."

On Monday November 16, Afghan Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar announced his government – working with the FBI, Scotland Yard and the European Union's police training mission to Afghanistan – was forming a unit to combat government corruption. "A giant step is being taken today in announcing the opening of the major crime task force," Atmar said.

But, the president's aides say, he is far from satisfied.

In his March 27 speech on Afghanistan and Pakistan, President Obama said, "we will seek a new compact with the Afghan government that cracks down on corrupt behavior, and sets clear benchmarks, clear metrics for international assistance so that it is used to provide for the needs of the Afghan people."

Those benchmarks have remained largely classified. Sources say the new strategy will include many of the same benchmarks, but with ramifications to US support to Karzai and his government if they are not met.

Last night in the Oval Office the President met with his team and told them his decision -- around 30,000 new U.S. troops and a strategy based more on fighting terrorism than nation-building -- a threat the president will outline in more detail tomorrow night.

The president first told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton his decision by phone Sunday afternoon, according to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. Obama then met at 5 p.m. with his war council, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and National Security Adviser James Jones.

At 6 p.m., he spoke via secure video teleconference with U.S. commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who asked for at least 40,000 more troops, and ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, who warned the president in classified cables of his concerns about sending more troops with Karzai in power.

"Both of those individuals felt very good about our way forward," Gibbs said.

President Obama Reaches Out to U.S. Allies Before Announcement

The president spent much of today consulting key U.S. allies -- the heads of Denmark, France, Russia and the U.K., and the prime minister of Australia, who sent more troops to Afghanistan earlier this year.

"Australian takes its alliance with the United States very seriously. That's why we have been with America for a long time in Afghanistan and why we will be with America for the long haul," Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said.

The president will call Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari tonight or Tuesday before his speech.

Today's calls to foreign leaders were to update them on the "strategy, the process that's gone into this," Gibbs said. Clinton will head to Europe for meetings with NATO next week, where she will present the Obama administration's plan in person and make the case for NATO contributions.

Clinton and Obama have both reached out to their allies and would like to see NATO contribute 5,000 to 10,000 troops to Afghanistan.

Obama is putting the finishing touches on his speech Tuesday night, which will be broadcast at 8 p.m. ET from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. Obama is expected to call for an additional 30,000 troops for Afghanistan at an estimated cost of $1 million per soldier.

"The president will talk about, this not being 'an open ended commitment,' that the goal and the purpose of the strategy is to train an Afghan national security force, comprised of an Afghan national army and a police that can fight an unpopular insurgency in Afghanistan so that we can then transfer that security responsibility appropriately back to the Afghans," Gibbs said. "I think he will go through why we are there, what he believes of this process, what this process brought about and outline what he hopes to see."

The decision comes after months of discussions and deliberations with the president's national security team. McChrystal had requested 40,000 additional troops for Afghanistan, but Eikenberry and several Democratic lawmakers opposed the move, saying that Afghanistan's government needs to reduce corruption.

Before leaving to give his speech at West Point, the president will meet with congressional leaders at the White House to explain his decision.

And on Wednesday morning at 9 a.m., the Senate Armed Services Committee has scheduled a public hearing on Afghanistanin which Clinton, Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen will testify.

President Obama to Announce Afghanistan Strategy Tuesday

Sources say the president's speech will touch on four major points.

Very quickly after the speech, sources tell ABC News, U.S. troops will be sent out for deployment in southern and eastern Afghanistan, especially Kandahar and Helmand provinces.

While Democratic lawmakers are increasingly opposed to a possible troop increase, Republican lawmakers say the move is necessary and that the president needs to convey that in his speech tomorrow.

"What the world needs to hear is that he's going to commit the number of troops necessary and he's going to accomplish the task, accomplish the mission of keeping the American people safe. That's the most important thing," Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., who recently returned from Afghanistan, said on CNN Monday.

"If the president is very resolute, if he's very specific about what he believes the mission is and what can be accomplished, then I think we'll be fine. If, however, he hedges his bets and plays to his political base, then there are real problems to be had, because then the Taliban and others who are interested in making certain that we don't accomplish our mission, those folks then just wait us out," Price said.

But Democrats say more pressure needs to be placed on Pakistan and Afghanistan's leaders to keep their end of the bargain.

"The problem is that you can have the best policy in the world, but if you don't have the tools to implement it, it isn't worth a beanbag," House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." "And I don't think we have the tools in the Pakistani government and I don't think we have the tools in the Afghan government. And until we do, I think much of what we do is a fool's errand."

Obey has introduced legislation to impose a war surtax beginning in 2011.

This weekend, British Prime Minister Brown assailed Pakistan for failing to find Osama bin Laden, a charge that the country's leadership disputes.

"We've got to ask ourselves why, eight years after Sept. 11 nobody has been able to spot or detain or get close to Osama bin Laden, nobody's been able to get close to Zawahiri, the No. 2 in al Qaeda," Brown told BBC News. "We want, after eight years, to see more progress in taking out these two people at the top of al Qaeda."

Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, defended Pakistan's record, telling a local TV station, "No one knows about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. The United Kingdom should extend cooperation with Pakistan in eliminating terrorism. During the last seven to eight years, Pakistan has either captured or killed more than 700 al Qaeda operatives."

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